We were recently invited to a 15 minute sneak peek of Guillermo Del Toro’s upcoming sci-fi blockbuster “Pacific Rim”. Yes it’s another aliens attack film, except this time, they’re really big aliens. Like. Really big. You may think that guy standing right in front of you blocking your view at a concert is big, but that’s just peanuts to these guys*.
Del Toro introduced the film via pre-record, promising to show us a glimpse of the world he has created, and reassure us that this is ‘artistically and thematically from other action blockbusters’. As the director of “Pan’s Labyrinth”, you do expect a bit more from Del Toro, and from what we saw, he delivers.
The first scene we are treated to is the backstory of how the Kaiju (big aliens) invaded Earth, how they were defeated and merchandised into toys (probably one of the more realistic elements of the film), only to return in greater numbers. And so the world leaders worked together (least realistic element of the film) to create a defence that would actually work – Jaegers – giant robots controlled by mind linked pilots. Seeing this backstory was very comforting as it means the film won’t need to spend 40 minutes on exposition – shocked faces and confusion and characters watching news reports to find out what is happening as the Kaiju come to Earth – it sped through these details in less than five minutes. A good sign there’s more to the story than just an alien invasion.
Next we meet a man on the beach with a child and a metal detector – the first indication that there’s a giant robot nearby. The second is when it comes crashing out of the ocean and collapses on the beach, with a poor broken pilot inside. The impression of the Jaeger as it falls to the ground is captivating, and you really feel for the poor big guy even though this was the first we had seen of him.
We then meet some of the main players as Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam of “Sons of Anarchy” fame) is introduced to his pilot partner Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi). They are about to try out their newly reconstructed Jaeger, and to operate it the pilots must link minds, exposing each other to their memories. This is a fascinating way to run a robot, and an even more fascinating way to delve into a character’s past, as in this scene, Mako loses control and is swallowed up by a terrifying memory from her childhood.
Finally we get to see the Jaeger’s in action, and it is incredible. Don’t have a hammer, no worries, why not use a ship instead to strike your opponent? The scale of these creatures as they thrash about iconic cities is awe inspiring, and you can tell Del Toro and team have worked very hard to take the look and feel of this movie to another level.
Upon first viewing of the “Pacific Rim” trailer it screamed “Transformers” rip off to me. Robots, aliens, skyscapers and fighting. If there was ever a blockbuster formula it’s that one (just maybe not on the sea, as “Battleship” didn’t do so well). For some this is enticing. For me, well, let’s just say my favourite review of “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen” involves the reviewer banging his head against a wall for almost two minutes. I came into this screening prepared to be unimpressed, but it had very much the opposite effect. Sure this film needed “Transformers” to come before it, as that franchise has paved the way for many like it, but unlike “Transformers” you can follow the action, it doesn’t chop around to create motion sickness, they have attempted to create characters you can care about, and if you could ever describe robots and aliens as graceful in battle, this is probably it. It seems like they actually have a story to tell here and whether or not they can sustain this quality over an entire film is still open to judgement, but I’m excited to see more.
The film opens in Australia July 11 and USA July 12.
*”Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” homage. It felt fitting.